It has been some time since my last post, and much has happened that is worth commenting on. But first, some theoretical discussion:
I started this Blog at a time when i was reading a lot of literature from the school of anarchist thought generally called “insurrectionalism”. In many ways this way of thinking appeals to me, especially in my angrier and more nihilistic moments. Yet I have my doubts about it, (some of which i have already tried to explore through the story “A doorway”, which is published on this blog and may soon appear in Organise magazine).
Perhaps the most popular text from this anarchist current in recent years is “The Coming Insurrection” by the invisible committee, perhaps because it’s alleged authors gained media attention in the Carnac 9 case.
It’s opening chapters are extremely thought provoking as well as being highly emotive, appealing to the current working class youth’s sense of general despair, anger and disillusionment with both the general state of affairs in society and conventional forms of opposition to it.
This disillusionment has led many insurrectionalist writers to reject even traditional class struggle anarchist tactics, especially syndicalism, which the Crimethinc “ex-workers” collective, for example describe, as a “dinosaur”. While I would not call myself a syndicalist, i do believe that workplace organising is a crucial part of the class struggle, and so on this point i am quite disappointed in insurrectionalist writers, especially as i agree with much of the rest of what they say.
The last sections of “the Coming Insurrection” outline a strategy for revolution which, when you strip away the rhetoric, is basically this: lets all live in squats, experiment with alternative lifestyles and try and militantly attack “the system”, especially the repressive arms of the State.
Now, this is basically the lifestyle i’ve been trying to lead for some time now, which is why i find “The Coming Insurrection” quite amusing because i certainly don’t consider this a revolutionary strategy. I suspect that the authors of most insurrectionalist literature, like me, are people whose personal disposition causes them to try and avoid wage labour like the plague. This is perhaps why workplace organising does not appeal to them.
I myself have found recently that there is really very little someone in my position can do to aid to cause of workplace organising. I don’t know many “workers” for one thing. All i can do is help distribute class struggle literature (which is like pissing in the wind in today’s society where most people are bombarded with thousands of contrary messages), and turn up to picket lines and worker’s demos when i hear about them.
But at least i try, because i have what is basically a Marxist understanding of how capitalism works, and see labour, rather than money, as being what “makes the world go around”. I believe that workers, rather than capitalists, should control the means of production, and that if this were the case many of the problems of capitalist society would disappear: environmental destruction, social inequality, imperialism and more besides. A good place to start is workers organising to control of the places they already work, rather than having to build completely new means of production (perhaps in their squats from what they find in bins if you accept the Coming Insurrection “strategy”).
Also, even from a non-Marxist, purely Anarchist perspective, it seems self evident to me that only if the vast majority of people are actively opposing the state will there be any chance of it being defeated. This means making alliances between people of all different types who all have their own reasons to be angry at the State or capitalism. Workplace struggles have historically and continue to have a radicalising and galvanising effect on people, fostering a culture of resistance and solidarity. So anarchists should support them as this is the kind of culture we are constantly trying to build, and without which successful rebellion is impossible.
Now, theory aside, what has recently been happening that is relevant to all this?
Firstly, the “Arab Spring” has given us all a reminder that it is mass movements, rather than small groups of angry squatters, that really have the power to bring down governments. A wave of popular rebellions against dictatorships in the Arab world, which has even spread outside it to Iran, though the State there is pretty good at violently crushing dissent. Almost every Arab country, from Morocco to Bahrain has seen mass demonstrations, and most of them have been calling for regime change. In the cases of Tunisia, where it all began, Egypt, and yesterday the Yemen, they’ve already achieved it.
In most of these cases the “uprisings” have been non-violent. In Egypt for example, the only “violence” was some property damage was caused to multinational businesses, of the kind that usually happens at anti-globalisation demonstrations. Of course, the Army was also wishing to get rid of the despot Mubarak, so in a sense there was always the threat of violence.
In fact what has happened in Egypt can best be described as a military coup. The military elite has used the mass movement against Muburak as an opportunity to put itself in power. This is a standard tactic of would be rulers. Machiavelli even wrote what is basically an instruction manual on how to do it (“The Prince”) over four hundred years ago.
Unfortunately it seems that most of the “regime change” that is going to come out of the “Arab Spring” is going to follow this pattern. This is precisely why i believe in the need for explicitly anarchist positions to be those around which mass movements form, because when regime change is all you ask for, its all you’re going to get. This makes me a “platformist” anarchist (though i reject the idea that there is an unbridgeable divide between platformism and insurrectionalism).
In Libya the situation is more complex. There is an armed resistance movement there that actually controls significant territory, making it much more like a revolutionary peoples’ war. The situation has been compared by some the the Spanish Revolution, though predictably enough the mainstream media in making this comparison do not mention the anarchist contribution to that conflict at all.
It is difficult to know exactly what kind of society the Libyan rebels wish to see replace the dictatorship of Gadaffi, or how similar it may be to an anarchist vision. Almost certainly there are many differences of opinion in the rebel movement, which is to be expected as it is a movement that transcends class divides.
One thing is for sure though, which is that only a tiny minority of Western minded bourgeois Libyans can possibly want a society that is heavily dominated by US and European imperialism. Yet with the intervention of the US, Britain, France, and now the rest of NATO, this is extremely likely to be what they get.
This seems pretty obvious, yet there has been no widespread opposition to NATO’s action from civil society in the West, as there was towards the Iraq war. That was also a case of western imperialist powers trying to rely on the unpopularity of an Arab dictator to gain support for an invasion to secure control of natural resources for their corporate allies.
That time millions of people around the world saw through it an came out on the streets to oppose military action. This time many seem to have fallen for the preposterous notion that NATO forces are there to assist a popular revolution.
This is NATO we’re talking about here. NATO which has been fighting AGAINST a peoples war in Afghanistan for the past 10 years. NATO which was SET UP to fight the threat of “communism” and people’s liberation movements more generally. NATO which is an alliance of capitalist state’s which routinely crush political dissent in their own countries.
One example of this crushing of popular dissent by a NATO member state is the police action against the rising discontent here in the UK, bringing me back to my earlier theme of insurrectionalism.
Just three days ago in Bristol there was a riot in the Stokes Croft area, prompted by a police raid on a squatted house. The Stokes Croft area has an impressive amount of squatting and anti-capitalist projects, and this particular squat happened to be next to a Tesco’s store that there has been extremely strong local opposition to.
The police’s version of events funnily enough is reminiscent of an insurrectionalist fantasy: they claim that the squatters were making petrol bombs in order to throw at the Tesco’s.
They claim they only found out about this plot just before they went in, yet somehow they were backed up by hundreds of riot police from South Wales, a neighbouring region. This kind of cooperation between different regional police forces is common in riot situations, but not in completely spontaneous ones like this. It takes a lot of paperwork and planning to organise. Also neither the fire brigade not anti-terrorist units were involved, making the whole “petrol bomb” claim, which is of course denied by the squatters themselves, seem very suspicious.
The raid, involving hundreds of riot police, was met with fierce resistance from people in the community, not just from squatters and anticapitalists. It went on all night, burning barricades were improvised from bins, and missiles including a breeze-block were thrown at police, sending 9 to hospital. This is a testimony to the culture of solidarity and resistance that has clearly been built up in the Stokes Croft area. In many parts of Britain such police action would be completely unopposed.
So why did the police do it? Partly at least, because it sends a strong message to the rest of the population: squatters are terrorists and they are backed up by violent rioters. Certain Insurrectionalist texts not going to help dissuade people from this assumption. (Read the magazine “Fire to the Prisons” if you’ve a taste for ridiculous rhetoric).
It seems angry quasi-insurrectionalist youth in Britain are far more numerous and active now as a result of the radicalisation of the student movement, beginning with the Millbank incident (which i wrote about in the post entitled “Armistace day”) and followed up by several high profile militant demonstrations organised independently from the NUS, as well as many decentralised smaller ones.
At the recent workers’ mass demonstration in London on March 26, many of these young people were in evidence fighting police, raving in the street, smashing up banks as well as other symbols of the ruling class, and partying in a big squat all night. In terms of the insurrectionalist subculture it was all a great success and I know many of them felt pretty pleased about themselves.
Now I don’t wish to denounce anyone or seem too disparaging. I myself felt pretty happy on that day when I saw what all these people were doing – it was a great atmosphere. But as I said earlier, I don’t believe its a strategy for social revolution if it’s divorced from workplace organising.
The March 26th demonstration was the biggest workers demonstration in decades, and a great number of active labour organisers would have been there. Many of them would have disagreed with the official line of the organisers of the demonstration, who were all compromised bureaucrats and neoliberal Labour party careerists. Most people were on the demonstration because they opposed the government’s cuts to public services, which the TUC and Labour party leaders do not oppose to the same extent.
Given this disparity between the leadership and rank and file, the demonstration was the perfect opportunity for anarchists to connect with workers, not to “convert” them, but simply to build alliances, to encourage them to take direct action, autonomously from their union leadership.
A militant response from organised labour in the form of a mass wave of strikes and workplace occupations, and supported by large sections of the non-working population by solidarity action, is realistically the only hope for defeating the British governments assault on public services, an assault which is going to directly deteriorate the material living standards of most of the population. Such a thing cannot happen without agitation from those who already approve of such tactics, such as Anarchists.
Many anarchists were in fact giving out propaganda on the demo and hopefully actually engaging in conversation with grassroots workplace organisers. But these positive outreach attempts were seriously undermined by the predictable negative press response to the property damage caused by other anarchists on the day.
Of course, it is natural for people to want to take out their anger on symbols of their oppression. But is it not better to take action against oppression itself?
It is natural for people to want to escape wage labour, and i myself have done this. But is it not better to play a role in a movement against the actual power of the bosses?
These things are not mutually exclusive, and i try to do both. I just hope that other angry young people are thinking the same, or else the Current Insurrection will merely end in another textbook Machiavellian regime change.